Paul Mannion: Sense of duty the drive behind Dublin return

All-Ireland final Man of the Match Paul Mannion has admitted that 'guilt' and a sense of duty to his former colleagues convinced him to return with Dublin this year.

Mannion, along with Jack McCaffrey, came out of their self-imposed retirements for 2023 and were soon followed by Stephen Cluxton.

Between them, they had a huge impact on Sunday's final win over Kerry, Mannion scoring five points, Cluxton drilling two and finishing with a 100 per cent distribution rate from kick-outs and substitute McCaffrey setting up two points.

Mannion, who won an All-Ireland club title at Glen's expense last January, revealed that he was happy living the club life since his inter-county retirement but simply felt guilty watching his former colleagues struggle in 2021 and 2022.

The 30-year-old said that it was specifically after the 2022 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kerry, which he watched from a pal's house in Boston where he was playing football for the summer, that he decided he needed to return.

"I decided that I couldn't keep watching on in good conscience really, so I just said I'd come back and just try to help in any way I could, big or small," said Mannion.

"If things had been different over the last couple of years and the lads had gone on...I just wanted them to win as much as any fan, and wanted to see them do well, to maybe feel better in myself in some ways, or less guilty in some kind of weird way.

Read more:

  • Kevin Madden: Dublin's big names got them over the line
  • James McCarthy and Dean Rock hint at retirement after banking another All-Ireland winners' medal
  • The sweetest thing... Fenton delight as Dublin prove doubters wrong

"Someone was asking me on Sunday, 'Are these the days you came back for?' And I was like, 'Honestly, no'. I'm so lucky to have had so many great days and it wasn't that I wanted more of that feeling, or that kind of thing. It was very much, 'I owe it to these lads'.

"Jamesie, Fitzy, Clucko, those lads have picked up nine now and Fenton, Ciaran, John Small, these lads have been around for so long and have committed so much, and I just felt I had to go back and just try.

"I said to Dessie and the lads at the start of the year that I had no idea where I'd be at in terms of fitness and what not but I'd just go back in and contribute in some small way."

The ankle injury that sidelined the 30-year-old for much of last autumn and winter, affecting his All-Ireland club campaign with Crokes, impacted his inter-county comeback earlier this year too. It wasn't until Dublin's penultimate Division 2 league game, against Louth, that he returned to action.

He scored a point that day, netted from a penalty in the league final win over Derry and started all but two of Dublin's Championship games, coming on in the round robin games against Kildare and Sligo.

Truth be told, the three-time All-Star was in the shadow of Cormac Costello and Colm Basquel for much of the Championship and only truly cut loose when the need was greatest, last weekend.

Without his five points, four of which were delivered from play, Dublin would probably have fallen to Kerry again.

"It was tough," said Mannion of the season overall, "probably tougher than I'd anticipated, definitely on the fitness front. The injuries took a toll, knee surgery back in January of last year and then the ankle in October. I was way off the pace fitness-wise for a lot of the earlier months this year in particular. It just took a lot of time to get that back up.

"The lads had done a serious pre-season from November or December or whenever it was that they started training and obviously I had the ankle injury. Then we went on the club run with Crokes which took us up to the end of January so it took a long, long time to get the fitness back up to where the rest of the team was. The way we play the game now demands so much of you, so it was taxing and it was difficult at times."

Sunday's final win was Mannion's seventh in total and came a decade after his first against Mayo in 2013. He has no hesitation in saying it was the most satisfying.

"Ah yeah, there was something about it," he said. "Just chatting to the lads, a lot of them felt this one was the sweetest of them all. I don't know, maybe it was just because there was...let's be honest, in many respects we were written off at the start of the year and probably rightly so with the way we'd been playing in some of the league matches, and over the last couple of years.

"But one thing that struck me when I got back this year was that the hunger and the desire to get back was still there. From very early doors you could see that in lads, that they were determined to right the wrongs I guess of the last couple of years and to really go and perform the way we know we can."